(Hi there. As you may have noticed from the title, this blog post is going to discuss bras – which means it will also talk about breasts. If a general-yet-honest discussion of female anatomy may make you uncomfortable, you are invited to skip past this blog post, or to close the browser completely. [I won't be offended.] Otherwise, if you’d like to read about my ventures in the land of intimate apparel, press on.) :)
Growing up, each August my mom would take my sister and I back-to-school shopping. Our mission: to secure a new wardrobe for each of us for the approaching academic year.
Sometimes my aunt would join us in our quest (which was a novelty, as she lived several hours away from us and we saw her only once or twice each year); other times, my mom, sister, and I would venture alone. While we had access to a shopping mall about 30 minutes from our house, my mom instead chose to take my sister and I either to Indianapolis or Chicago for our day-long shopping venture. Indianapolis was a multi-hour drive from home, which meant we would usually spend the weekend shopping and stay overnight with family who lived in the area. Chicago was a 90-minute train ride away, so for those trips we left home very early and returned very late, but fit the entire shopping venture into a single day.
I have mentioned before in this blog that I don’t like shopping. Locating clothes that I like is a difficult chore, trying on garments is an incredible hassle, and finding items that look good on me can feel impossible at times. I had these same sentiments as a kid – and yet, every year from first grade through high school I actually looked forward to the back-to-school shopping experience.
I liked traveling to a bustling city (and getting away from our well-known home town). I liked experiencing new sights, scenes, sounds, and even smells. I liked eating completely different food for lunch. I liked that an outing to Chicago always ended with Fannie May candies, and that a trip to Indianapolis always included a meal at Steak n’ Shake. But mostly, I liked spending a full day with my mom and my sister (and my aunt when she came). I liked the three (or four) of us working together to try and achieve a nearly impossible task – i.e., purchase a year’s worth of clothes in 12 hours, and within the constraints of a very tight budget.
Granted, at some point during every trip we all had moments where each of us were either near tears or ready to scream (or both). But I honestly can’t recall the details of too many of those moments. What has stayed with me all these years later is the sensation of the train gently rolling down the tracks, the energy of strangers moving around a big city, the wonder in seeing street vendors for the first time, and the joy I felt spending a full day with the women closest to me.
Once I entered college I no longer needed to buy a whole new wardrobe each fall. I had stopped physically growing, and was therefore able to wear clothes for longer than one season. But I always felt a sense of sadness as August turned to September, and I didn’t get to spend a special shopping day with my mom and my sister.
A few weeks ago I was shopping at the local discount/grocery store for our weekly household supplies, and happened to pass through the back-to-school section of the floor pad – and felt a pang of longing hit me. I’m actually quite happy to be done with my 20 years of school (elementary, middle, and high school, undergrad and graduate degrees), but I still experience a sense of yearning when I see new backpacks, lunch bags, pencil boxes, notepads, writing utensils. A part of me remembers the genuine joy I felt as a student (indeed, as a child); and I suspect a part of me wishes I could return back to those “good ol’ days”, back when life felt simpler and safer.
Alas. “You can’t go home again,” as the author wrote. Still, maybe I can indulge in a “back-to-school” experience this year. I don’t need paper or binders, and I don’t need a new wardrobe – but I do need bras.
My current assortment of intimate apparel is reaching the end of its elastic and supportive life, and I’ve known for a while that I need to invest in new undergarments. But since I dislike shopping so much, I’ve pushed the task off. However, my current need + my back-to-school sentimentality + item #66 on my 101 list may now = the time to get professionally fitted for a bra.
To get started with this task, I performed an online search to see what nearby stores offer this service. I found four possible options. The first was a shop that focuses on women recovering from breast mastectomies or reconstructive surgeries. Mercifully I have not had personal experiences with breast cancer or breast surgery, so I scrolled past this online entry (and said a little prayer for all of the women who have, do, and will benefit from these services). The second option was a spa/boutique rather close to my home – but the online reviews of the place were increasingly negative, so I crossed this possibility off the list. The third entry was a specialty store with very positive online reviews, but which was an hour from my house – and I don’t want to drive that far if I can help it. Fortunately, the fourth (and final) option was a well-known retailer that has received national coverage (pun intended) for their bra fitting services, and is only 30 minutes away. Since 30 is half of 60, I chose this store to be the one to fit me.
I arrived a few minutes early for my appointment, and promptly at 2 pm was greeted by M, a young-yet-professional bra specialist who looked like a classic-and-cute French woman. She was very reminiscent of Audrey Tautou in Amelie (same face, same hair, same smile, same body), but with a very down-to-earth demeanor. (And she was 100% American.) M escorted me into a fitting room, had me remove my t-shirt, and deftly wrapped a measuring tape around my ribcage. “You’re measuring a 27,” she informed me, “which is going to make things difficult.” She then eyed my breasts. “And I’m going to guess you’re a B cup.” She paused. I could see her thinking. After a moment, she resumed, “Well, fortunately, I’m also a 27 who wears a B cup, so I have a really good idea of where to start. I’m going to get some fit bras; I’ll be back in a few minutes.” With that, she left the fitting room, and returned precisely three minutes later, eight different bras in her hands.
I put on the first bra that M handed me, and was honestly shocked by how tight it was against my ribs. “Um, is this supposed to be so snug?” I asked a bit hesitantly. M looked at me, half-shocked, half-amused. “Yes,” she replied matter-of-factly, “this is actually exactly how a bra is supposed to fit.” Oh. My current bras are much looser in the elastic band than this one; the ‘snug-factor’ is going to take some getting used to. As I contemplated the new sensation of firm chest compression, M dramatically shortened each of the bra’s straps, so that my breasts were elevated a good 2-3 inches from where they usually reside. Again, I posed a question. “So, ah, are the straps supposed to be that short?” I inquired. Again, M looked at me somewhat incredulously. She responded, “The length of the straps will vary from one bra to the next, depending on the style. What the straps need is to be adjusted to a setting where they can actively support your breasts, which is what these are doing right now. Your breasts are supposed to sit here,” she finished, indicating the current location of my chest.
“Oh, okay,” I answered. M then had me look in the mirror, and I did a slight double-take. Wowzers. I have a set of perky, plump breasts. Holy buckets. The bras I have been wearing all these years have been doing me a big disservice; I looked pretty darn smashing in this basic, but well-fitting undergarment.
M looked at me and asked, “So, what do you think?” I blinked, then responded, “I think it’s definitely an improvement from what I currently own.” M smiled in return. “Definitely,” she agreed.
I tried on seven more items under M’s watchful eye. At the end of the fitting, I learned that my true bra size is a 30B; but that this size is usually only found through custom-orders or in Parisian lingerie shops. So my “realistic-for-living-in-the-U.S.” bra size is a 32B, with straps as short as I can find them. I also learned that my current body is best served by a demi, balconette, or push-up bra style, and that I should avoid full-coverage or t-shirt bra types. I am a full two sizes smaller than what I have been wearing for the past decade. Wow. Good learnings.
As M and I wrapped up, she started talking about how to get a truly perfect fit, I would need to have the bras altered, which she could have the store do for free if I just opened up a store credit card and spent an exorbitant amount of money… I now kindly smiled at her, and told her, “I’m going to need to think about all of this for a few days.” Her gaze turned hard, and she asked coldly, “So you’re not going to buy anything today?” I responded matter-of-factly, “No, not right this second. I want to look around.” With that, she uttered a short, “Fine,” then scooped up the bras and marched out of the fitting room, leaving me standing half naked.
Whatever. If a sales person won’t be kind to me when I’m ‘just looking’ (versus when I’m actively spending money), then I won’t give the individual my business. Having been ‘dismissed’ by M, I put on my old, stretchy, saggy bra and my lovely blue t-shirt, walked out of the store, and made my way to my car – where I drove to my neighborhood discount retailer.
Now armed with new information about what size, style, and configuration of bra I should be wearing to achieve the best fit, I walked straight to the intimate apparel department and began scouring the sales floor for appropriate bras. Finding my real-world size 32B was challenging, but after some hunting I did find six different bras that were viable contenders. In the fitting room, I found that the straps of two of the items didn’t fully adjust, so they wouldn’t get short enough to properly fit my torso. One of the garments didn’t fit snugly enough around my rib cage, and two of the bras were fuller coverage than what I was instructed to wear. This left me one final item to try. Here we go…
I clipped the back, slipped my arms through the straps, adjusted my breasts up to their proper location, and stepped back to take an objective look in the full-length mirror.
It was a really great fit. I looked fantastic.
I changed back into my own clothes, handed the five “no’s” to the fitting room attendant, and walked back to the sales floor to get more of the “yes” item. At the end of the day, I purchased the winning bra in six different prints and colors – all for a quarter of the amount I was being asked to spend at the shop where M worked.
Later in the evening, I showed my sweetie the new purchases, and demonstrated the impact a properly-fitting undergarment can have. He tried to toe the very thin line between, “Oh honey, I love you for your insides/it doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside,” versus “Damn, I have a smokin’ hot wife/come give me some sugar!” – and while he did a very good job at being appropriately supportive of me, I could also tell he was rather pleased with my new-and-improved look. :)
And that’s totally okay; I am also quite happy with my new reality. I know that beauty is fleeting, and that I won’t have this body forever (indeed, I will likely begin to undergo some semi-dramatic physical transformations in the next few years as my body starts to enter middle-age). So I’ll make the most of what I can while I have it, and will wear my new bras with confidence and joy.
P.S. As I was taking the picture for this post, one of our dogs had a different idea of what I should be doing: